Is political opposition the most expensive tax?

I was discussing Travis County Proposition 1 at lunch today with a co-worker whose house is worth about double what mine is. The proposition will increase Travis County taxes by 5 cents per 100 dollars of value. Now whether you think that’s a big tax increase may have a lot to do with how the county appraises your homes value. In my case it’s some money, but not big money. For people whose houses are worth twice as much as mine it’s a big deal.

But I think we’re arguing about the wrong thing. In Texas, the value of your house is a much bigger issue than your tax rate. We could cut the tax rate in half, but if my co-worker’s house doubles in value again in 5 years he still has the same exact problem. And if my house doubles in 5 years (which it easily could), I’ll start having my co-worker’s problem.

So the question about preserving affordable housing in Austin has jack to do with tax rates. It has to do with slowing real estate appreciation. No one wants that. But they also don’t want huge tax bills. So lets call it managing our real estate appreciation.

Ultimately we need more supply in Austin. Pretty much everyone would love to live in the central city, which is why the prices are so high. So we need to focus on building more housing in the central city. And, frankly everywhere.

Neighborhoods fight the city all the time on a number of issues. We tend to think about those issues as having no cost. But think about 10 people moving to Austin. A builder is planning on building a 100 unit housing complex in your neighborhood and there are 2 homes for sale. If the neighborhood allows the housing complex and its built in time all those people will be able to find a house without making the price of homes in your neighborhood rise. But if there is a fight and the new housing is delayed all 10 people will be competing for those 2 houses. And they’ll almost certainly pay more for the house raising the value of your house. Which raises the value of your tax bill.

Now I think there are reasonable reasons to fight development. But being reflexively anti-development is very, very bad for your tax bill. And the tax rate has little to do with it.